2012 Needs to Be the Year of the Stadium

It seems like so long ago. The prospect of a waterfront baseball park down within a simple Home Runs path of Tampa Bay looking towards the St. Petersburg, Florida iconic inverted triangular Pier seemed destined. At that time it seemed the Tampa Bay Rays would begin their 2012 season under a bellowing sail and among the legion of stars that grace the Florida night sky.

I still remember the impromptu hot dog and soda celebration given by the Rays just after the conclusion of their final Spring Training game in Progress Energy Park. Kids were running the bases, parents were basking at the proposed views and changes that would grace this patch of land within the next few years. Expectations were high, and the Rays even made an effort to commemorate the new stadium with a simple gesture in the outfield.

Stenciled in white chalk in the Right-Center field green grass was the proposed placement of the future Home Plate keystone facing towards the Northeast. This symbol showed the promise, the excitement and the hopes of future All-Star games and festivities would center around this iconic parcel of land just to the South of the growing steeples of condos and offices in St. Petersburg.

Funny how we now sit within days of 2012 and since the Rays closed the book on this proposed stadium location, they have been mired still swinging at the plate, not even reaching the first steps towards pursuing another vista in the region. Committees have met and been dissolved providing resolute opinions and suggestions, but still the open lines of communication between the Rays and the community seem muted.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has been more than adamant that Tropicana Field is not adequate, or even fiscally able to uphold this region’s baseball legacy. Only the Rays and the maligned Oakland A’s sit in perpetual motion in regards to new vistas to call home. At the turtle rate the Rays stadium is moving, the A’s will have traveled the road to San Jose and been in their new digs for 5 seasons before the Rays break ground.

But the simple fact the Rays are silent should bother all of us who live in this region. I consider the team a regional asset, a barometer that shows if we are a Major League town, or a sleepy hamlet that is destined forever for tourism not baseball. With the Rays standing firm and silent, the decision by baseball to award a franchise to South Florida first in this state seems to have been a genius move.

I was really looking forward to the former stadium revelation and construction. I would have sneaked upon the grounds and watched as the inner bones and fragments were placed, my emotions would have grown as the stadium took shape and the sail was unveiled to fill from the pre- sunset sea breeze. But all that is moot. All of that excitement, that exhilaration has been boxed up, carted away, possibly forever.

2012 was supposed to be a year of renewal of the passion and love for baseball for this region. The site of Progress Energy Park would have been underneath the infrastructure of the new facility, but the emotions and residual haunts of baseball would have filled the halls. Now soccer is played in this stadium site. The city has invited teams from other countries to train here trying to at least grasp some of that Spring magic again, but the true essence of baseball only seems to aptly survive here from April to October, then it takes a long hibernation.

Back on that afternoon as I stood in the Batter’s Box and stared towards the Northeast I could never imagine in my wildest nightmares this region would fight amongst itself perpetually suspending any attempt of building or imagining a Rays future stadium anywhere in this region. As of now there are no ongoing discussions, no released plans, no small-scale models for us to glance at lovingly. It is like the progression of any kind of baseball facility for the Rays has been erased, systematically eliminated and cast off for now.

I might stroll out into the Progress Energy Park outfield on April before heading to the Trop for Opening Day and stand in that same spot where once sat the make-believe Batter’s Box and point my Louisville Slugger towards the Northeast hoping for a sign, hoping for a revelation.

April 2012 was supposed to be a celebration, a final epiphany of this region to bask in the embrace and afterglow of baseball, a time of celebration of the Ray’s 15th MLB season with a state-of-the-art new digs along a picturesque slice of Tampa Bay. Instead this April Progress Energy Park will be vacant, open to the elements with only one Rays fan in attendance paying homage to the enthusiastic 2012 time-table and the memory of that bellowing sail.

10 Comments

I can tell how frustrating this is by reading this post. I wish something could be done soon. I don’t have much faith in Bud Selig personally, but someone needs to step up and “make it happen”.

Ron

Ron,
Blame can go in many directions here. The Mayor of St. Pete kind of acted like a street level bully when he began to flex legal muscles. The Rays ownership\front office can be blamed for staying silent instead of stating their case with authority and showing any type of movement. It is almost like the Rays are lying there playing dead hoping the big bad wolf(mayor) get bored and either leaves trhem alone or gets defeated in his next election. Guess this will be a classic To Be Continued moment.

Its the economy, (stu)pid.

Paul,
Sternberg initially committed to $150 million of the stadium cost out of the team’s pocket. Granted that still leaves a huge financial hole in the ground, but the Marlins founda way, and the state would of found the $$ for the Rays. Public interest groups did a hatchet job big-time on the team’s proposal, and it seemed almost out of frustration and humiliation we are stuck in the deep mud hole with no stadium road in sight. I understand totally the economy, but the state subsidies and tax breaks would account for another nice chunk of money if the stadium had been embraced by the community instead of chased off the drawing board.

BTW, i wasnt calling you stupid i was just using the term from the 90′s. I think right now in the short term what is holding up the whole process is the st, pete mayor Bill foster. And i total understand where he is coming from too but he is not helping the team the people of st. pete and the region in the long run. He knows the Rays wont be playing at the trop in 2027.

Paul,
I didn’t take it personally.I live in St. Pete, and did not vote for Foster becuase of his stolic stance ith the team even before his election. Foster did a lot of good in the “early years” of trying to bring baseball here and as a City Councilman during the Rays first decade, but he lost sight of 1 true element, this team is more than St. Pete and holding this team hostage will blow back into his face with consequences. I understand the hurt city pride and wanting to seem firm with the Rays, but if this prevails too much longer MLB will place it’s foot on the city’s nack and snap it like a twig…Then we all lose…..possibly a team forever.
It is almost to a point where Foster has to take a leap of faith knowing the Rays will decide in the Carillion Park site for a stadium and no longer fret or impose legal bullying tactics to keep the team with in the city limits. Honest answer, we had faith when Sternberg bought the team, now Foster has to remember that and step forward with his fists unclenched..

Cliff,
I read your frustration and passion in this post. Well, I always do read your passion in your post. You put it so poetically. You reminded me of a couple I met at the SABR Fall League conference from Oakland. All I can say is good luck.
Emma

Emma,
I can at least be at peace that the Rays have not gone totally yo-yo on their stadium news like the A’s ownership. Back and forth, up and down with no stadium in the futre, but a lot of confusing rethoric and talking of fantasy more than realistic moves. Still, it gets a bit old, almost to the point of apathy to hear nothing and hope for some movement. Hopefully within the next 364 days we will have a path, a guide to the final goal, or at least some positive news…..Sigh!

I’ve got a feeling the Rays will not get a new stadium anytime soon. If they could actually build a stadium in Tampa, I think they could get at least 30K a game.

Bleacher,
I am not convinced yet a move to Tampa would bring 30,000 a game. I truly think this region in the Spring and Summer has so many options outside of the sports teams that family-related activities kill the weekday attendance. That being said, those should be the games that thrust out the best promotional items to get people to enter the gates not only for the gift, but to see this team play their unique style of baseball. The clock is ticking for thie region, and MLB Commish Bud Selig could stomp on that clock at any time. I am watching the Oakland stadium situation as it might be a goo indicator of what MLB m ight do to these 2 markets if they can not see eye-to-eye soon.

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